• Ishaan Bharadwaj

Why is the Mahindra Bolero Neo the most sensible and fun SUV under ₹12 lac?

Yes, you are seeing it right. A Mahindra Bolero being 'fun'. Well, technically, it is a Mahindra TUV300 which has been tweaked a little and rebranded as a Bolero Neo, the word 'Neo' remarking the connection with the adventurous and much outgoing younger generation. Probably not the Gen-Z yet but the Millennials who really don't give two fragments about massive screens and stupid gimmicks in a car and rather want something which is robust and can go anywhere without breaking the bank!



My first impression when I saw the Bolero Neo during our first drive last year in July was 'Meh, it's just a TUV300 with fancier alloy wheels and an old name.' But I was wrong! In yesteryears, I never got the chance to really take the TUV300 off the beaten path and truly understand what it was capable of. A modular ladder-on-frame chassis paired with a strong suspension setup makes the Bolero Neo a proper SUV, unlike the pseudo SUV / crossovers running on a Monocoque chassis. What makes it an even more potent setup is the 1.5 L mHawk diesel engine that produces 100 bhp of max power and 260 Nm of max torque. All of this power is pushed via a 5-speed manual gearbox to the rear wheels. And you know what happens when the power is supplied to the rear wheels, ' Skids!'.



The lack of a heavy sunroof on the top, a ladder on frame chassis with substantial mass and a shorter 2680mm wheelbase means that throwing around the Bolero Neo on slippery / gravel infested surfaces is going to be as easy as going to the Milk Booth and buying, well, Milk. Does that worry me? No! Because when I am driving normally, the 215/75 section tyres have good enough grip to keep this boxy SUV planted to the ground at all times. Even at triple-digit speeds, the body movements are properly contained, not compromising on the highway stability.


Aesthetics



The Bolero Neo is instantly recognizable from far off. Retaining the boxy shape in times when curves and creases are being considered Gold Standard in design is a bold move by Mahindra. The high bonnet line with wide wheel arches and a thick plastic strip makes it look very purpose-built and robust. The square-shaped plastic cladding around the wheel arches looks cohesive with a thick high 75 profile tyre to create visuals of an SUV that is ready to go anywhere.



From the TUV300, the changes have been very subtle, and one has to have both cars parked side by side to understand the differences. The front grille now gets 6 chrome slats like the other Mahindra cars to give the family face, the ground clearance is lowered by a tiny bit making the stance of the Bolero Neo more mature than outright off-road oriented. I like how the headlamps have an unnoticeable dark element to make it look as if it is smoked out. The side profile remains unchanged except for the addition of the newly designed 10 spoke 15-inch alloy wheels. At the rear, there are no major changes than the X shaped Stepney cover and the bold Mahindra Bolero Neo badge on the top left-hand corner of the boot lid.


On the Inside



The space management inside the Bolero Neo is class-leading. This is the widest car in its class with 1795mm width and with marginally thinner door cards, the shoulder room inside is much liberated. Compared to something like a Ford Ecosport or a Tata Nexon, the space between the shoulders of the two people sitting in the front seat is substantial. even if you choose to be hardcore bodybuilders, the tattoos on your shoulders won't rub your mate's.



The cabin looks clean and has less clutter than what the other options in the industry have to offer. The lower dashboard line and textured dashboard top help evade any reflections on the heavily raked front windscreen. The position of the air-conditioning vents is pretty scientific too, as it allows air to cool the face and the body without chilling the tip of your fingers while driving long distances. Housed below the AC vents is the 17.8 cm touch screen infotainment LCD screen, which does give a lot of driving information and alerts about the car. It does however misses out on connectivity interfaces like Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which in 2022 is a major omission considering the need for everyone to be connected with their devices on the go



What takes away the cake for me are the seats. Although they are not the most well-contoured seats in the business today, the exterior dimensions of the car (which are larger) liberate quite a lot of room in the front and the back. 3 large adults can easily fit in the 2nd row without a fuss as the seat base is almost flat and the transmission tunnel does not intrude into the foot room for the 3rd passenger either. What helps the space management in the back, even more, is the scooped out front seatbacks and a taller headroom. Your friend who just couldn't stop growing taller than 6 ft 6 inches would not be complaining here.


Out in the Wild



The Bolero Neo's robust chassis and high ground clearance make it one of the most adventure friendly vehicles under the 12 lac price tag. The way the suspension setup handles the harsh conditions of the surface, be it a rocky trail or a snow infested path, it just sails itself through it without much fuss. The experience of off-roading is further enhanced by the excellent visibility from the driver's seat. The Bolero Neo has large windows which aid greater visibility and helps achieve smoother manoeuvrability around tight bends or big boulders that are out of your visual.



This SUV looks proportionally shaped and does give one an appeal of a rigid, go-anywhere tool for the outdoors. I like how it retains the values of how an SUV should look rather than being overly curvaceous and showcasing conceptual identities of how a car would appear in the future. The idea of being functional over its form truly works in the favour of the Bolero Neo. It's just a matter of time when you get over the fact that it does look like a 5-year-old design of the TUV300 and soak yourself in the real picture of how practical and fun the Bolero Neo is. Speaking of fun, the real wheel drive setup helps the Bolero Neo climb up the steep gradients quite efficiently, whereas the front-wheel-drive cars do struggle in heaps.


Kitna Deti Hai?


In our test run from Manesar to Sonipat and back to Delhi, a total distance of 185 km, with an average speed of about 70 kmph, the 1.5 L mHawk turbocharged diesel engine was churning out a healthy 26.3 kmpl.



For an SUV with a very heavy ladder-on-frame chassis and a loaded turbo diesel engine, this fuel economy figure is not just impressive, it is class-leading. If you're brave enough, then you would not require to refuel before completing 1000kms in a full tank. That fact alone is mighty impressive for this family SUV.


Verdict


The Mahindra Bolero Neo is an underdog in the compact family SUV segment. Just because of the way it looks and the name-sake it suggests a lot of buyers have detested considering one. Bolero as a brand does identify as a people's carrier in the off-beaten areas of India. This Bolero Neo takes up that recipe, refines it to make it appeal to the sophisticated consumer and presents it in the most low-key fashion possible. I greatly admire the engineering prowess and flexibility of the Bolero Neo to be a great family SUV. It does have jump seats in the boot to accommodate 2 kids or 2 adults for shorter journeys. No other car in its class does that.



If you are in the market to get yourself an SUV, a proper SUV for your family to get out and travel the country without any fuss or headache, there is nothing as uncomplicated as the Bolero Neo right now. A tall boy SUV that goes everywhere without a hiccup. Get yourself one and let it addict you to travelling like an albatross. The top end variant (in-pictures) , N10(O) touches 11.8 lac (ex-showroom). This is one of the greatest buys right now if you are an adventure lover and don't want to kill your bank account.






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